Starting a Mock Trial Team
Contact list for new schools and prospective schools:
- If you are a new school to AMTA or looking at starting an AMTA program, please contact Brandon Harper, member of AMTA's Development Committee, with any questions about starting a new program.
- If you have questions about AMTA's tournament structure, registration process, or tournament logistics, please contact Michael Walsh, Tournament Administration Committee Chair.
- If you have questions about AMTA's tabulation system, scoring, or how our competition works, please contact Johnathan Woodward, National Tabulation Director.
- If you have questions about AMTA's religious accommodation policies, please contact Don Racheter, AMTA's Accommodation Committee Chair.
Frequently Asked Questions
Note: This FAQ contains basic information for programs new to AMTA. Nothing in this FAQ replaces or overrides the official Rulebook.
- What do we need to do to register?
- In order to be considered registered, you need to:
- (1) Complete the on-line school registration form;
- (2) Pay all applicable registration fees (including any late fees); AND
- (3) Submit an institutional authorization letter in accordance with Rule 2.3 of the Rulebook.
- The above steps must be completed by the registration deadline. Additionally, prior to competition at regionals, you will have to submit a team roster, and each member of your team will have to complete the current competitor registration form.
- In order to be considered registered, you need to:
- What are the registration fees? Are there any discounts available to new schools?
- The school registration fee, which provides access to the current year case materials, is $450. There are additional fees for each team you register to compete at a regional, Opening Round Championship, or National Championship tournament, which can be found in Rule 2.4 of the Rulebook. If this is your school’s first year registering for AMTA competition, or if your school has not registered for AMTA competition in the last 5 years, the regional tournament registration fee for your first team ($125) is waived.
- What is the registration deadline?
- The standard registration deadline is October 15. A program that registers after October 15, but before January 15, will be required to pay a late fee of $75 per team and may be placed on a waitlist for assignment to a regional tournament.
- When are regionals? Where will my regional be located?
- Regional tournaments take place each weekend of February. Each team will be assigned to one regional tournament. Schools are limited to two teams per regional tournament (i.e. If you register three teams, your teams will be split between two regional tournament sites). If you have registered by the October 15 priority deadline, you will learn the location and dates of your regional when regional assignments are released, which is typically in late November. Please do not assume that you will be assigned to any particular regional tournament or make any non-refundable travel arrangements until regional assignments are released.
- Are there any tournaments we can attend before regionals?
- Regional tournaments are the first AMTA-sanctioned events of the year. In addition, many schools choose to host invitational tournaments between October and January. A list of invitational tournaments that have chosen to be included on the AMTA website can be found here.
- How many students are on a mock trial team? What roles do they play?
- A team consists of anywhere from 6 to 10 students. A team competes twice as both the plaintiff/prosecution and the defense at each tournament. On each side of the case, 3 students compete as attorneys and 3 students compete as witnesses. A team with 6 students will have each student compete on both sides of the case. A team with more than 6 students will have some students who compete on both sides of the case and others who compete on only one side. Of the 3 student attorneys on a side, each will conduct one direct examination and one cross examination. One attorney will give the opening statement, one will give the closing argument, and the third will not have a speech.
- What is a timekeeper?
- Each team is required to provide a timekeeper to time each element of the trial, provide signals as to how much time is remaining, and announce when time has expired. The timekeeper must be a rostered member of the team. If a team has more than 6 students, the timekeeper is typically a student who is not competing on that side of the case. For a team with 6 students, the witnesses typically serve as timekeeper, switching as each is called to the stand.
- Can I use my cell phone to keep time?
- No. Timekeepers must use stopwatches or other timekeeping devices without mobile or wireless capability. All cell phones, laptops, and other wireless communication devices must be powered off at all times during the round, including during breaks.
- Can we see what a round looks like before we compete?
- Videos of prior national championship trials can be purchased from the AMTA Store. You may also consider contacting invitational hosts in your area about observing rounds.
- How many rounds will we compete in at regionals?
- Each team will compete in 4 rounds at regionals. Each team will have 2 rounds as plaintiff/prosecution and 2 rounds as defense.
- How good will the teams be at regionals?
- Since all registered teams compete at regionals, there is a wide variety of experience and skill level among the teams at each regional tournament. Your regional may include teams in their first year of competition as well as teams that placed in the top 10 at the National Championship Tournament last year. Some teams work with the case for only a few weeks, whereas others practice multiple times a week the entire school year. Some teams compete only at regionals, and others attend 5+ invitationals prior to regionals. You should expect there to be some extremely good teams at your regional as well as some that are not as strong.
- How are the rounds paired? Will we face teams with similar experience or skill?
- The first round of regionals is paired randomly. The second and third rounds are power-paired, which means that a team that has done well in the prior rounds is likely to face another team that has done well, and a team that has lost the prior rounds is likely to face another team that has lost. The fourth round of regionals is paired in a bracket system such that teams in contention for bids to the Opening Round Championship Series are paired against other teams in contention for bids, and teams that are not in contention for bids or that are already guaranteed to receive bids face other teams that are not in contention or are already guaranteed to receive bids. A complete explanation of pairing procedures can be found in the Tabulation Manual.
- How are the rounds scored?
- Each round has 2 scoring judges, and each judge’s ballot is counted separately. Each ballot has a total of 14 scored functions for each side (opening statement, 3 attorney directs, 3 attorney crosses, 3 witness directs, 3 witness crosses, closing argument). Each of the functions is scored out of 10, with a maximum of 140 points for each side. The team that receives more points out of 140 wins the ballot. Placement at the conclusion of the tournament is determined by the number of ballots won out of 8 possible. Note that some trials will have 3 judges. In a round with 3 judges, 2 judges score, and the third serves as the presiding judge. In a round with 2 judges, both judges score, and one also serves as the presiding judge. No regional rounds have more than 2 scoring judges.
- Can we find out how we are doing during the tournament?
- Yes. Each team is permitted to have one representative in the Tabulation Room, which is where ballots are scored and rounds are paired. Your team’s representative can look at your ballots from completed rounds and can also observe the pairing of the next round. The ballots must remain in the Tabulation Room, and you will receive them at the conclusion of the awards ceremony. The Tabulation Room is closed after the fourth round, so you will not find out the results of your last round until the awards ceremony.
- What do I do if there is an error on my ballot?
- There will be a 30 minute review period following each round during which you must bring any tabulation errors to the attention of a tournament official, whether or not the error is in your favor. Errors not brought to the attention of the tournament officials prior to the end of the 30 minute review period are waived. Because the Tabulation Room is closed following the fourth round, the 30 minute review period for the fourth round takes place after the conclusion of the awards ceremony.
- What is the dress code?
- Student attorneys are generally expected to wear business professional attire, such as business suits. Witnesses may wear any costume or attire they consider appropriate for the character they are portraying as long as it does not violate Rules 1.4 through 1.10 of the Rulebook.
- What is a captains’ meeting?
- The captains of each team meet prior to each round to hear announcements, receive ballots, select witnesses, and show demonstratives to the opposing captains. Any disputes regarding demonstratives are resolved by a tournament official. It is essential to be on time to each captains’ meeting, and you may be penalized if you are late.
- How does witness selection work?
- More witnesses are available to each side than the 3 each is allowed to call in a trial. During the captains’ meeting before each round, the captains select witnesses in the order specified in the case packet. For example, if the witness selection order is P-P-D-D-D-P, that means that the plaintiff/prosecution selects its first two witnesses, then the defense selects all of its witnesses, and finally the plaintiff/prosecution selects its last witness. Typically, some of the witnesses are available to be called by either side. As a result, teams will have to prepare backup witnesses in case their first choices are called by the other side first.
- What do we do with the ballots we received at the captains’ meeting?
- Teams should fill out the top portion of each page of the ballot with their team number and the round number. They should also put the names of the students portraying each role as well as the names of the witnesses they are calling in the appropriate blanks on the white comment pages of the ballot. The ballots are carbon copies, so you should not stack them while you fill them out. If you do, the bottom pages will be illegible.
- What is the format of the trial?
- The format of the trial is set forth in Rule 8.5.1 of the Rulebook. The round begins when the judges enter the room. Often, the teams will conduct a brief pre-trial before opening statements begin. Both opening statements occur at the beginning of the trial, with the plaintiff/prosecution going first. The defense is not permitted to reserve or delay its opening. Following opening statements, the plaintiff/prosecution puts on its case-in-chief, consisting of its 3 witnesses. The plaintiff/prosecution does the direct examination of its first witness, followed by the defense’s cross examination, and any re-direct or re-cross examination. The plaintiff/prosecution then calls its second witness, and then its third witness. The defense case-in-chief proceeds in the same manner. No rebuttal witnesses or re-calling of witnesses are permitted. Typically, judges will permit a recess following the plaintiff/prosecution case-in-chief and a second recess following the defense case-in-chief. The plaintiff/prosecution then gives its closing argument, followed by the defense closing, and finally, if there is time remaining, the plaintiff/prosecution rebuttal.
- What happens during pre-trial?
- Pre-trial is not required, and there are no set obligations for pre-trial. Some things that teams may choose to do during pre-trial include: introducing their attorneys and party representatives to the judges (known as “making appearances”); providing the judges with copies of documents for their reference, such as the complaint/indictment, stipulations, case law, or Midlands Rules of Evidence; invoking Rule 615 of the Midlands Rules of Evidence to constructively exclude witnesses other than party representatives; asking for permission to move freely about the well of the courtroom; and asking the presiding judge’s preference on whether attorneys should ask permission before approaching opposing counsel, the witness, or the bench.
- What happens when the round is over?
- At the conclusion of the closing arguments, the judges must complete their blue ballots (the pages containing the scores, labeled page 5) as quickly as possible. The judges may ask you to leave the room while they finish the ballots. Once the blue ballots are completed, they should be folded, and a representative of each team (typically the timekeepers) should take them to the Tabulation Room. Once the blue ballots have left the room, judges will often give the teams some oral comments on their performances and advice for future rounds. Teams then typically shake each other’s and the judges’ hands before leaving. The judges may keep the white/yellow pages of the ballots (pages 1-4) containing their written comments for the purpose of giving their oral critique. Once the judges have concluded their comments, the white/yellow pages of the ballots should also be taken to the Tabulation Room. Your representative may review your ballots in the Tabulation Room, but may not take your copies until the conclusion of the awards ceremony.
- Am I allowed to use notes?
- Witnesses are not allowed to use notes or have their affidavits with them on the stand, unless the affidavit is shown to the witness to impeach him or to refresh his recollection in accordance with the Midlands Rules of Evidence. Attorneys are permitted to use notes, but judges may score them lower for doing so. Most teams at regionals do not use notes.
- What objections can I make?
- Attorneys may make any objections that are consistent with the special instructions in the case materials and the Midlands Rules of Evidence. Only the attorney responsible for the direct or cross examination of a witness may object while that witness is on the stand. No objections are permitted during openings and closings.
- What do I do if a witness says something that’s not in his affidavit?
- Witnesses are permitted to invent background information about themselves to develop their characters, but they are not allowed to invent material facts that could affect the outcome of the trial. During a round, the only remedy for improper invention is impeachment. There is no objection to invention of fact. In a typical impeachment, the witness is asked to confirm the statement he made on direct, and is then shown his affidavit, asked to authenticate the affidavit (including his signature and the fact that he was under oath), and asked to admit that the impeachable statement cannot be found in the affidavit. Judges are instructed that teams inventing material facts should be scored down. Improper invention is considered cheating. If you believe that a team has engaged in egregious invention of fact, you may report that team to AMTA in accordance with Rule 8.9(6). Note that it is not considered improper invention for a witness to invent facts on cross examination if he is asked a question the answer to which is not contained in the affidavit. On cross, a witness’s answer need only be responsive to the question asked and not contradicted by anything in his affidavit. Attorneys who ask questions they don’t know the answer to do so at their own risk.
- How do I control a witness that rambles on cross?
- Mock trial witnesses often give long answers that go beyond the question that was asked. How to control the witness is a strategic decision on your part, and judges vary widely in the techniques they consider effective or appropriate. Options to consider include: asking the question again; asking the witness to answer with a yes or no; asking “Was that a yes/no to my question?”; moving to strike the witness’s answer as non-responsive; and asking the judge to instruct the witness to answer the question.
- What are the time limits of the trial components?
- The time limits can be found in Rule 4.31 of the Rulebook. Opening statements are limited to 5 minutes each. Each side is limited to 25 minutes for all 3 of its directs and 25 minutes for all 3 of its crosses. Teams are free to divide the 25 minutes between the 3 witnesses in any manner they choose. Objection arguments are not included in the 25 minutes, and timekeepers should stop time when an objection is made. Re-direct and re-cross are included in a team’s direct and cross time, respectively. Closing arguments are limited to 9 minutes. The prosecution/plaintiff is limited to a total of 9 minutes for both the initial closing and the rebuttal. The closer is responsible for saving time for rebuttal if he or she wishes to do so. The rebuttal may not exceed 5 minutes.
- What is all-loss?
- Each round is required to be completed within 3 hours. During each round, the all-loss time will be posted in the hallway. If your trial is not completed by the all-loss time, both teams will be penalized by having a ballot deducted from their final total. For more information, see Rule 4.33 of the Rulebook.
- Will the judges know what school we are from?
- Teams are assigned 4 digit team numbers so that judges do not know what schools they are judging. Team numbers are assigned on an annual basis, and they can be found here. You are not permitted to tell the judges what school you are from before or during the round. You also may not display any items that would identify your school. Once the blue ballots containing the judges’ scores have been taken to the Tabulation Room, you may identify your school to the judges.
- What do I do if I recognize a judge?
- If you are assigned a judge that you know personally, you or the judge should advise a tournament official immediately so that a different judge can be assigned. You also cannot be judged by the same judge more than once during a tournament. If you are assigned a judge that has previously judged your team at a different tournament, that is not considered a conflict.
- Can we have spectators watch our rounds?
- Rounds at AMTA-sanctioned tournaments are open, and anybody is allowed to watch them. However, you are not allowed to speak to spectators, including coaches, family members, friends, or strangers, during the round. From the time the judges enter the room to the time the blue ballots leave the room, including during recesses, you may not communicate with anybody except the judge, the rostered members of your team, the opposing team, and tournament officials. You should make sure that your spectators know not to approach you or speak to you during the round.
- Can we videotape our rounds? Can other teams videotape our rounds?
- Yes, you may videotape any round in which you are competing. The opposing team may videotape your round, and does not need your permission to do so. Teams not competing in the trial may not videotape it without the permission of both competing teams.
- What is a “bid”?
- A team that qualifies to a level of competition beyond regionals is said to have earned a “bid” to that round of competition. The top teams from each regional site earn bids to the Opening Round Championship Series, which takes place in March. There are 8 ORCS sites around the country. The top teams from each ORCS site earn bids to the National Championship Tournament, which takes place in April.
- If we didn’t automatically qualify to ORCS from our regional, is it still possible to get a bid?
- There are typically some “open bids” to ORCS that become available because teams that qualify decline their bids or because schools earn more than the 2 bids to ORCS that they are permitted to accept. Open bids are awarded in accordance with Rule 6.9 of the Rulebook to the teams with the best records across all regionals that have not already received bids. If you were among the top teams at your regional that did not receive bids, check the open bid list to see the order in which open bids will be awarded.
- What are individual awards? How are they determined?
- Individual awards are given to the top attorneys and top witnesses at each tournament, based on their performance on a single side of the case. At the bottom of each ballot, the judge is asked to rank the top 4 attorneys and the top 4 witnesses in the round. A first rank is worth 5 points, a second rank is worth 4 points, a third rank is worth 3 points, and a fourth rank is worth 2 points. Each student’s points are added together for the 4 ballots on a side, for a maximum of 20 points. The attorneys and witnesses with the highest point totals out of 20 are given individual awards.
- Are there any changes made to the case materials during the year?
- Minor case updates and corrections may be released throughout the year. Be sure to check the AMTA website shortly before your tournament to ensure you have the most updated version of the case. Substantial case changes are typically released for the Championship Series.
- I have more questions. Is there somebody I can talk to?
- Each new program that registers will be assigned a mentor who is an experienced AMTA Board member, committee member, or coach. If you would like to be assigned a mentor prior to registering, please contact Brandon Harper.
Additional Resources for Those Preparing to Compete:
There are many useful resources that can be found on the subject of collegiate mock trial. For those who found the content of the above-referenced handbook to be useful, but are looking for more resources with additional practical information to help an individual prepare for competition consider the following two resources that have been used by many throughout the years.
Beck, Charles R. 1999. “Francine, Kerplunk, and the Golden Nugget: Conducting Mock Trials and Debates in the Classroom.” Social Studies, 90: 78-85.
Bengtson, Teri J. and Katrina L. Sifferd. “The Unique Challenges Posed by Mock Trial: Evaluation and Assessment of a Simulation Course.” Journal of Political Science Education 6: 70-86.
Farmer, Kevin, Steven I. Meisel, Joe Seltzer, and Kathleen Kane. 2013. “The Mock Trial: A Dynamic Exercise for Thinking Critically About Management Theories, Topics, and Practices.” Journal of Management Education 37: 400-430.
Karraker, Meg Willkes. 1993. “Mock Trials and Critical Thinking.” College Teaching 41: 134-144.
Noblitt, Lynnette S., Sara L. Zeigler, and Miranda N. Westbrook. 2011. “Bias on the Bench: Sex, Judges, and Mock Trial Simulations.” Feminist Teacher 21: 124-138.
Shepelak, Norma J. (1996). “Employing a Mock Trial in a Criminology Course: An Applied Learning Experience.” Teaching Sociology 24: 395-400.
Spader, Dean J. 2002. “Two Models and Three Uses for Mock Trials in Justice Education.” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 13: 57-86.
Vile, John R. and Thomas R. Van Dervort. 1994. “Revitalizing Undergraduate Programs through Intercollegiate Mock Trial Competition.” PS: Political Science and Politics 27: 712-715.
Walker, Felicia R. 2005. “The Rhetoric of Mock Trial Debate: Using Logos, Pathos and Ethos in Undergraduate Competition.” College Student Journal 39: 277-286.
Wagoner, Ruth R. 2005. “Mock Trial as a Vehicle for Teaching Critical Thinking.” Paper Presented at the National Meeting of the National Communication Association, Boston, MA.
Wagoner, Ruth R. and R. Adam Molnar. 2012. “How Attorneys Judge Collegiate Mock Trials.” Speaker & Gavel 49: 42-54.
Zeigler, Sara L. and Sheena M. Moran. 2008. “Revisiting Adam’s Rib: Student Performance, Gender Stereotyping, and Trial Simulations.” Journal of Political Science Education 4: 187-204.